From Michele Dunne
As if it were not enough that an Egyptian criminal court sentenced civil society activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim in absentia to two years in prison plus a fine for “harming the reputation of Egypt abroad,” now the Egyptian media reports that the courts have agreed to hear another suit seeking to strip Saad of his nationality. There are so many things wrong with these decisions that it is difficult to know where to start.
Topping the list, of course, is the rich irony that it is these very decisions that harm Egypt’s image far more than Saad has ever done. Then there is the fact that these are among the ridiculous third-party cases allowed by Egyptian law, in which the charges are brought not by an injured party or even by government prosecutors but by sleazy lawyers loosely affiliated with the ruling party. Such third-party cases often become truly ludicrous, for example when a third party sues—sometimes successfully—to force a divorce between two happily married Egyptians because one of them has done some unorthodox writing and so is considered an apostate who is not allowed to be married to a Muslim. In Saad’s case, the court agreed that Saad hurt the interests of all Egyptians by calling for U.S. military assistance to the Egyptian government to be cut or conditioned unless the country makes progress toward democratization and greater respect for human rights. A strange idea, indeed, about who has Egyptians’ best interests at heart.
There is a silver lining to the judgment against Saad: at least he was convicted of an explicitly political crime, unlike opposition politician Ayman Nour, languishing in prison for nearly three years now on trumped-up forgery charges. While neither Nour nor Ibrahim are causes célèbres in Egypt’s essentially conservative and conformist society, each has enjoyed a mini-resurgence of support recently among young liberal Egyptians, who are finding new ways to express themselves, whether joining Facebook groups, posting comments on the website of al-Masry al-Youm, or singing patriotic songs on the beach at Alexandria. This is no revolution, but it is heartening to see younger Egyptians identifying the regime’s dirty tricks for what they are.
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